If you can’t take the heat…

Some days you just know you shouldn’t be trying to experiment in the kitchen.

But you do it anyway. Because you have issues.

We’re having a snow day in greater Boston today so instead of working on my resume and applying for jobs I’m daydreaming and reading about hiking and backpacking and camping. I’ve been meaning for a while to work on some trailworthy hot chocolate and instant coffee mixes. Even though I knew I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind to be experimenting in the kitchen I headed in anyway. I figured I’d limit myself to hot cocoa mix… keep things low-key… minimize the risk of disaster.

Coffee fiends that we are, the boyfriend and I started off last year’s backpacking season carrying organic instant coffee (surprisingly drinkable! and I like the linked brand a lot better than Starbucks Via.), powdered soy milk, and turbinado sugar. This worked out OK, though the soy powder never really fully dissolves — it stays a touch gritty. After some trial and error we found that for whatever mysterious reasons this combination works better with cold water than with hot. If you have a water bottle that seals tightly you can shake the bejeezus out of it and it mixes as well as it’s ever going to. And it tastes better than when it’s made with hot water. Go figure.

When we ran out of powdered soy we switched to powdered coconut milk. BTW — if you’re dairy-free be very careful of powdered coconut milk — most brands contain casein to prevent clumping. Native Forest is the only vegan brand I have found. Powdered coconut milk is great because it has a pretty high fat — aka ENERGY — content, is just a little bit sweet, and, well, it tastes like coconut! I am a sucker for just about anything made of coconut. Being casein-free, the NF coconut powder is a bit lumpy and clumpy, so it really only works well in hot water. But it doesn’t stay gritty like the soy. So, pros and cons. I really prefer coconut to soy, though, for crazy conspiracy theory and flavor reasons.

So today I thought I’d make some hot cocoa mix with powdered coconut milk. What could possibly go wrong? I threw some in my Vitamix (aka Greased Lightning) along with cocoa powder, sugar, salt, cayenne, and cinnamon. I wanted a powder in which the ingredients were finely ground and fully incorporated so they’d dissolve well in water.

Fully aware of the fat (and moisture) content of the coconut powder, as well as the power of the Vitamix, I’m not sure why I expected to end up with a light, fluffy, powdery instant hot cocoa mix. Instead I got something that looked like it should be buried in a cathole. I mean a lovely, rich, thick hot chocolate paste/concentrate. Or a delightful toast topping (the boyfriend’s idea).IMG_2466 It turns out that when you put powdered coconut milk into a high-speed blender you get coconut butter. Valuable knowledge for the future but not what I was going for today. I’m not sharing a picture with you for what should be obvious reasons. But I am sharing a picture of the hot chocolate even though it looks like every cup of hot chocolate you’ve ever consumed. Don’t get me wrong — it’s really good hot chocolate. It’s just not going to be very convenient on the trail.

Next time I’ll try it with powdered soy. It shouldn’t turn to paste in the blender but should get ground finely enough to not be so gritty. Or maybe I’ll try the food processor instead of the blender. I’m also planning on trying a “cappuccino” mix — something we can just throw into some hot water instead of carrying coffee, sugar, and creamer as separate components. I’ll let you know how that all turns out.

 

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The Power of the Written Word

I. Love. Books. Fiction, non-fiction, travel, adventure, sci-fi, food, fitness, and the list goes on… the printed word has always been incredibly important to me. My mother taught me to read before I was four and I never looked back. Never have I been so influenced, so enraptured, so utterly hopelessly completely in love with a book, though, as I am with my “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have had this set of books for almost as long as I can remember and I have read them countless times through.

The books, however, had been packed up in a box for far too long — so long, in fact, that I had no idea where this box was. I thought it was in a particular closet but was proven wrong last year when I dug through said closet in search of my beloved books.

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Only the most cherished books on the planet.

It turned out, I discovered a few weeks ago, that my boyfriend had moved this box (and a few others containing most of my books from my childhood) to his parents’ attic in New Hampshire. And now we have finally been reunited. My books are safe and sound in my apartment and I am devouring them for probably the 27th time.

I know that these books are technically fiction loosely based on Laura’s life. In my mind, though, every word written in these books is exactly how things happened, lo, those one hundred plus years ago. I certainly can’t remember conversations I had with my parents when I was five but I know deep down in my heart that Laura could. And did. And she wrote them all down much later in life and published the best books ever written.

When I was a kid my favorite was On the Banks of Plum Creek. The Ingallses lived in a sod-roofed house (hole!) dug out of a hillside; Mary and Laura attended school for the first time in their lives (at ages 9 and 8, respectively); Laura met the evil Nellie Oleson (who reminded me all too much of a group of Mean Girls I grew up with). As an adult I am partial to Farmer Boy, the story of a year in Laura’s future husband Almanzo’s life in upstate — and I do mean UPSTATE — New York. As much as I love the writings of Ruth Reichl, Julia Child, and James Beard, none of them has anything on Laura. The best food porn of all time is contained in Farmer Boy. Read it.

  

If you want to read the whole series but aren’t sure of the order in which the books are meant to be read, I found this handy list in Little House on the Prairie. I was probably just either side of ten when I wrote it:

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Apparently I’ve been a crazy list-maker for even longer than I realized.

And for the love of all that is holy (namely this set of books), PLEASE do not ever. ever. ever. mention that TV series named after one of these books to me. Thank you.